Friday, May 8, 2015


This week we started our “Project Phase” of the school year, five weeks of experiential education. Pedestrians downtown know it too, because they see young teenage boys strolling around wearing new hiking boots and empty backpacks.

This first week I was supervising some sophs who were teaching camping skills to the freshmen who will soon be backpacking in the woods. 

What red-blooded teenage boy wouldn’t want to learn how to tie a knot called a “Siberian Hitch?” Really! It sounds like such a guy thing, you know?
- “Hang on a second, man, I got to finish setting up my tarp with this Siberian hitch!”

This morning we had the kids outdoors practicing tying tarps to a couple of trees. I strolled over to a kid (I'll call him Willie) who has so many struggles in his life that he doesn't always act properly to say the least. So I walked up to him and challenged him, “Okay, tie me a Siberian hitch around that tree!” His eyes brightened and he took his four feet of practice rope and went to work. With just one little miscue he had the knot done correctly in no time. Then  he turned to me, eager for my approval.
- “Whoa!” I cheered, “Way to go with the Siberian hitch, man!”
- “Wait! Lemme show you a slipknot, Fath' Al! Hold on.”
-  “Okay, go for it!”

I watched as he talked to his fingers, whispering instructions about each next step. The slipknot was soon done; not perfectly, but well enough to rate an encouraging word:

- “Willie’s goin’ all crazy tyin’ these knots!” I shouted for all to hear. His big smile of satisfaction matched the way I felt inside.


Our Lady Undoer of Knots
This evening at Vespers I was reflecting on my week, and I thought of Willie tying his Siberian hitch; and I started to think about all the knots he has in his life, all the snarls and snags and unsolvable situations, none of which are his fault
Then I remembered hearing of “Our Lady Undoer of Knots, a favorite devotion of Pope Francis. When he was still Jorge Mario Bergoglio studying in Germany he came across a Bavarian painting of “Maria Knotenlöserin" or "Mary, Untier of Knots.” He was so touched by it that he bought a copy of the painting and brought it home to Argentina and started promoting devotion to Mary under this title.


(I’ve borrowed this paragraph from a website written by Taylor Marshall.) The theology
Irenaeus of Lyon (ca 125-202)
of Mary untying knots goes back to the second century -- less than one hundred years after the death of the apostles. Saint Irenaeus wrote
“the knot of Eve’s disobedience was loosed by the obedience of Mary. For what the virgin Eve had bound fast through unbelief, this did the virgin Mary set free through faith." This is one of the earliest examples of describing Mary as the “New Eve.” Eve, standing next to Adam, is the “co-peccatrix” (co-sinner), while Mary standing next to Christ crucified, is the “co-redemptrix” (co-redemptress). This does not mean that Mary directly saves or redeems us, It means that Mary consents to and participates in the redemptive action of Christ.

Many Marian devotions grew out of the piety of the Middle Ages or later periods of the Church’s history, but not this one. Our Lady Undoer of knots goes back to the second century -- almost to the apostles themselves.


I have no idea of what Willie is going to do this weekend; I’m not even sure if his mother is in is life so that he can celebrate Mothers’ Day with her. But I’m sure of this much: When he comes to school on Monday he’ll still be carrying all those life-knots that he’s been struggling with most of his young life.

The nice thing about a Siberian hitch is that you can untie it with one quick tug. Willie’s knots will require a lot more than that, I’m afraid. Something like the help of Our Lady Undoer of Knots.
Pray to her for Willie now and then.

Our Lady Undoer of Knots, Pray for us!


The monks of Newark Abbey are having an open house on Saturday, May 16, 2015. We have mass at 8:45 a.m. if you'd like to come for that, and then little tours and exhibits and books and coffee, and visiting with the monks all morning until the the open house ends with Midday Prayer (11:50 to 12:00). You can find driving directions on our web site,
Please come! We'd love to meet you!


No comments:

Post a Comment